Faye, a British writer, is on her way to a book conference somewhere in southern Europe. She is expected to give several interviews and to take part in social events. The people she meets all have a story to tell – and they do. Faye herself hardly ever talks, especially not about herself, she somehow makes people around her open up and share their thoughts with her. First, it’s the passenger seated next to her in the plane leaving London. Later she meets interviewers who much rather talk about themselves than about their interviewee, her publisher shares her thoughts on the book market and fellow authors who want to convey a certain image of themselves.
“Kudos” is certainly a very special novel. I do not think I have ever read a book in which a first person narrator tells a story and at the end you ask yourself if you got only the slightest idea of the narrator herself. Faye hardly reveals anything, even though she is interviewed over and over again, we only know about a divorce and a son and the fact that she’s a writer – we do not even know what her current is actually about.
Yet, I think Faye might have another function that providing a clear picture about herself. She is more like a canvas, she motivates other characters to paint themselves on her, she is their means for expression. This goes quite well with the title “Kudos”, praise for exceptional achievement or fame, especially in the arts. However, what has Faye done? We know nothing of her own achievement, she is well known for sure, but what exactly for remains in the dark. What we know is that her private life has not been that successful, the separation of her partner and a son who prefers to stay much rather with the father than with her. Only once, at the very end of the novel, is she in contact with him, but only because he cannot get in touch with his father and needs an adult to share his nightly disaster with.
The things the characters share with Faye vary from professional fulfilment and familial shortcomings, over feminism to literature and its quality. Yet, their opinions are neither discussed not questioned, they are just statements that you can ponder. I do not really know what to make of this, I like characters sharing strong opinions on something and thinking about it, but I also appreciate if an author provides a kind of objection or agreement.
“Kudos” is the concluding novel of Cusk’s trilogy which started with “Outline” in 2015 and continued 2016 with “Transit”. I haven’t read the previous ones thus I do not know if we get a better idea of her protagonist through them. However, I didn’t feel like having had to read them to enjoy “Kudos”.
The novel is remarkable in several ways, it reveals a lot about human nature and in particular human narcissism. The words are carefully chosen and the sentences wisely constructed, the language is simply beautiful. All in all, an outstanding piece of art. Kudos for that.